Five thoughts on the Ravens' 22-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins Thursday night at Hard Rock Stadium:
The Ravens were playing on the road, on a short week, coming off an overtime game lasting nearly 70 minutes. But that excuse or any other excuse won't fly. This was a meltdown, pure and simple. A Miami team with a 2-7 record was just way better than a Baltimore team that came in 6-2, with tons to play for. The Dolphins were more physical. More creative. Just sharper, period. Upsets happen in today's NFL, but this one was a rough look for the Ravens. Their offense was overwhelmed by relentless blitzes, stopped cold for much of the game. The defense fought hard but continued to give up big plays and yielded with the game on the line. Even Justin Tucker missed an early field goal that would have come in handy. Lamar Jackson has been tough to put away in 2021, leading a handful of stunning comebacks, but you had the feeling long before this game was sealed that the Ravens weren't coming back on anyone on this warm night. They're fortunate to be able to fall back on having a 6-3 record and a firm place in the AFC playoff picture. But it's hard to take solace of any measure when you're beaten so soundly.
In dissecting what went wrong, I think you start up front on offense, with the play of the O-line. The Dolphins succeeded in pressuring Jackson with a heavy diet of blitzes and a Cover Zero scheme, and the Ravens couldn't do anything to turn off the faucet. This led to all sorts of issues. Jackson started throwing horizontally rather than looking downfield, and that helped the Dolphins get off the field on third down. (The Ravens converted just two of 14 thirds into firsts.) Meanwhile, the running game ran into a brick wall after some early success and the entire operation came somewhat unglued, with Jackson often needing to hustle to get the ball snapped as the play clock neared zero. Jackson has lost in the playoffs as the Ravens' quarterback, but it's hard to remember a game in which he was more flustered, frustrated, and out of sorts. He did lead a late touchdown drive to cut the margin to five points, and who knows what might have happened if the defense had gotten him the ball back with a chance to pull out the win? But honestly, the late flurry only made his stats look better on a night when Miami made him miserable.
The Ravens' defense played well enough to win in many respects. As the offense floundered, the defense registered four sacks and 13 quarterback hits, allowed just 60 yards on the ground and limited the Dolphins to just three third down conversions in 13 attempts. Miami's offense didn't reach the end zone until less than three minutes remained in the game. "The defense played great," Jackson said. It's especially impressive when you consider the unit was without Derek Wolfe, Brandon Williams, Marcus Peters and DeShon Elliott, all out with injuries. But the defense also must shoulder part of the blame for the loss. Continuing a troubling pattern, it allowed pass completions of 64 and 52 yards, both of which seemingly resulted from blown coverages. Both plays led to Miami points, with the 64-yarder serving as a dagger. It came when the Ravens had cut the deficit to five with less than five minutes to play. A stop by the defense could lead to big things, but suddenly, the Dolphins' Albert Wilson was all alone on the sideline, ball in hand. A week earlier, a stop by the defense could have sealed a win in regulation, but it allowed the Vikings to drive to a touchdown and force overtime. The unit's inability to seal deals is worrisome.
The Ravens came into the game having scored just 24 first-quarter points in their eight games – one of the lowest totals in the league. Now they've scored 27 first-quarter points in nine games. Jackson didn't take offense when asked about his unit's slow starts. "It's ridiculous. I don't understand it either," he said. What was especially weird about this slow start was, well, it wasn't that slow for a time. The Ravens opened the game with a crisp drive into Miami territory. Devin Duvernay ran for 19 yards. Devonta Freeman ran for 12. Jackson moved the chains with completions to Marquise Brown and Rashod Bateman. When the drive stalled, Tucker kicked a 46-yard field goal. That was fine, except the Ravens didn't score again until late in the fourth quarter. Their remaining possessions in the first half ended with a missed field goal and four punts. Many of their slow starts in 2021 haven't ended up mattering because the offense heated up and the Ravens rallied. But this slow start was a problem. "We have to hit the ground running like we're supposed to. It starts by staying calm and just being us. Don't put anything extra in our minds." Jackson said. One can only hope it's that simple.
Short takes – One of the saving graces of the night was seeing linebacker Justin Houston record a sack to go over 100 for his career. It's a huge achievement … I'm not one to point fingers at the officials, but when a key Mark Andrews reception was challenged and overturned on replay in the third quarter, I never saw an angle in which the ball clearly hit the ground … You know it's not your night when Patrick Queen had a clear shot at scooping up a fumble and running for the end zone, only to have Miami's Liam Eichenberg dive on the loose ball and secure it … No one is going to call this game a classic. There were nine points and eight punts in the first half … Losing to a non-contender puts extra pressure on the Ravens' next game, against the Chicago Bears on Nov. 21.